The 2014 Orioles: What To Do

Posted Wednesday November 27, 2013 at 10:35:05 pm in Real Sports

The last 2 years have been rather solid for the Baltimore Orioles. In 2012 they turned in a magical season culminating in taking the Yankees 5 games in the ALDS after winning 93 games. In 2013 they proved 2012 wasn't a fluke by winning 85 games.

But what is the real talent level for the 2014 Orioles? Are they a contender or simply a competitor? Or even worse: a pretender?

My first reaction is that I don't think the 2014 Orioles will be a pretender. No, I think this club can certainly win more games than they'll lose. What I'm not sure of is whether they'll contend (like in 2012) or simply compete (like in 2013).

In 2012, the Orioles took advantage of a division that was surprisingly weak: the Blue Jays stunk, the Red Sox stunk, and the Rays were so-so. They had so-so starting pitching, an elite bullpen, a bad defense turned very good w/ the call up of Manny Machado, and an average offense. Put all that together with their late and extra inning heroics...and you have a contender.

But in 2013 things didn't go quite according to plan. The pitching regressed a bit (from a 3.90 ERA in 2012 to a 4.20 ERA in 2013). The bullpen regressed from an elite bullpen to a good (not great) bullpen. The offense got a bit better but was overly reliant on the homerun. The real strongsuit was the defense. It was an elite defense that resulted in shattering the record for the least amount of errors in major league history. They ended with only 54 errors...11 less than the 2003 Mariners.

So as I look forward to the 2014 season I ask the question: what do the Orioles need?

With Brian Roberts tenure as a starting second baseman in Baltimore most likely over, I have to point out a glaring hole at 2nd.

Nate McLouth's one year deal and inability to hit lefties is shaping up for a need in LF.

The black hole that was DH aside from some late season domination by Danny Valencia will be a problem in 2014 unless addressed.

Jason Hammel's contract is up and he most likely won't be back in 2014. This leaves the rotation as Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris.

Putting all of those together, the Orioles need to fill 2B, LF, DH, and at least one SP.

Now, there are some in house options for 2B.

Ryan Flaherty improved from 2012 to 2013. His numbers:

  • 2012: 216/258/359 - 617 OPS (66 OPS+)
  • 2013: 224/293/390 - 683 OPS (83 OPS+)

In only 85 games, according to BB-Ref, Flaherty put up a 0.6 oWAR and a 0.6 dWAR in 2013. That's pretty solid. What's not solid is Flaherty's inability to hit lefties. Buck used Flaherty in only 25 plate appearances against lefties. This is something that should be noted going forward.

The other option is certainly one of Baltimore's bright prospects: Jonathan Schoop. But the 21 year old was injured at times throughout 2013 and put up lackluster numbers at AAA (697 OPS). He could use more seasoning in the minors. And I expect he will. Cross him off the list.

LF is a different story. There simply aren't any (many?) viable options to start in LF for the Orioles. Yes, Steve Pearce put up some solid numbers in 2013 (261/362/420 - 782 OPS). But what do those numbers turn out to be if he played a full season as opposed to only 44 games? His defense is also less than ideal.

DH is a need that desperately needs to be filled. Nolan Reimold was supposed to be the guy, but ended up being Nolan Reimold, i.e. hurt.

As for starting pitchers, I don't think the Orioles can afford to go into 2014 duct-taping a rotation together and hoping that Gausman turns into the ace he's supposed to be. These are the following most likely candidates for the 5th rotation spot:

Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, TJ McFarland, and Steve Johnson.

I'm going to attempt to break down the options:

  • Brian Matusz - gets crushed by righties, has been situational lefty for the last 2 years. Overpaid.
  • Tommy Hunter - dominant setup guy with problems against lefties. Could be a closer. 
  • Zach Britton - health issues, sinker is back but is getting hit very hard. Control is still an issue.
  • Kevin Gausman - was rushed to the majors last year, still needs a polished 3rd pitch and better control in the zone.
  • TJ McFarland - pretty solid as a long man, DD sees him a SP candidate, but still a reach. Essentially he's Brian Matusz, but better. Not good enough.
  • Steve Johnson - injured last years, didn't really show much of anything.

To be quite frank, none of these guys should be sniffing the rotation to start the year. They should only be there for depth throughout the year in case of injury/ineffectiveness.

FWIW, I don't think the bullpen needs to be improved. I'd like a better closer and not to pay Jim Johnson $10 million, but I think the bullpen can be bolstered from within. As it should be. We shouldn't be overpaying for bullpen arms.

Now, it's one thing to point out the weaknesses. It's another to suggest workable solutions. Read on for some free agent options.

Starting Pitcher
My first want was Tim Hudson. But he was picked up by the Giants. Here are my revised wants:

  1. Hiroki Kuroda
  2. Matt Garza
  3. Ervin Santana
  4. Ricky Nolasco
  5. Bronson Arroyo

My predictions? I think Kuroda goes back to the Yankees. Santana is going to want too many years and too much money.

I'd love to see the Orioles go hard after one of Garza, Nolasco, or Arroyo. But ultimately I see them taking a flyer on Gavin Floyd and resigning Scott Feldman. Which would not improve the starting pitching much (if at all).

Second Base

I'm going to miss Brian Roberts. And I want to say that on Opening Day. I don'tthink Brian Roberts should be resigned. No, not because I don't think he could contribute. I don't because I think Buck would want him to start at 2nd base.

With that said, I'd be okay with Ryan Flaherty at 2B if the Orioles don't pick up a veteran. There's not a snowball's chance in hell they sign Cano, so I'd rather them try and sign a Mark Ellis or Omar Infante type. Ellis is a fine defender who won't hurt you with the bat.

So, I'd prefer Omar Infante, then Mark Ellis. I'd be ok with Ryan Flaherty, but I do not like his inability to hit lefties. And he's still a question mark offensively over the course of a full year.

DH

We all know Buck's thoughts on the Designated Hitter. It shouldn't be a one dimensional player. They have to be versatile.

That said, the DH class is slim pickins. But I think the Orioles should be going hard after Kendrys Morales.

Or I'd like to see the Orioles do the unthinkable: sign Carlos Beltran.

LF

Just do it already. Resign Nate McLouth. Platoon him in LF with Steve Pearce.

Wrap Up
On offense, the Orioles need to improve output from DH and 2B. And OBP. They can do both by signing Carlos Beltran and Mark Ellis. If they want to skimp a little bit on the OBP, they can roll with Omar Infante. Both Infante and Ellis are decent options.

I think the O's could do worse at LF than McLouth/Pearce.

SP

At SP, the market is a bit more murky. I think they need to sign 2 guys. Those 2 guys should be a combination of a sure fire #2/#3 and a low risk/high reward kind of guy.

So, let's get Matt Garza and Gavin Floyd.

The 2014 Baltimore Orioles could look like the following:

C: Matt Weiters
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Mark Ellis
SS: JJ Hardy
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Nate McLouth/Steve Pearce
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
DH: Carlos Beltran

Bench: Steve Clevenger (C), Ryan Flaherty (UTIL IF), Steve Pearce (LF, 1B), Danny Valencia (LF, 3B, DH)

SP: Matt Garza, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris

Bullpen: Jim Johnson (closer, righty), Tommy Hunter (setup, righty), Darren O'Day (setup, righty), Brian Matusz (lefty), Chris Jones (lefty), Josh Stinson (long man, righty), Kelvin De La Cruz (lefty)

The last bullpen spot can really be filled however.

I think McFarland starts 2013 in the minors, one of Matusz or Patton or traded (I'm guessing Patton), and Gausman, Johnson, Britton all start in the minors.

That's a realistic offseason and one that improves the offense (OBP), the bench, DH and the starting pitching.

Beltran and Garza are the only 2 high cost guys.

Do it!

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view